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January 06, 2010
When an Irish passenger was detected carrying an electric razor, a quantity of chocolate and several works of literature, airport security thought they might have their man.
What business had I carrying a 9-volt battery? This was one of the questions posed in my arduous experience getting through security checks in Boston airport at the weekend. I had to go through the standard screening process twice, removing my jacket, shoes and belt on each occasion. Additionally I was subjected to two ‘random’ tests that involved groping. I am not sure why I qualified for the 4-star treatment while other passengers continued on their way, and I wouldn’t mind hearing the odds of my being selected for two ‘random’ searches.
Most protracted and frustrating was the interrogation that followed when the airport police emptied my rucksack on a table and asked about all of the contents, the details of my visit for the peace-loving MLA convention, and pretty much any aspect of my life that it pleased them to wonder about – and as it happened, they wondered about a great many things.
The guard set about reading my PhD dissertation. He must have been aware that one of the parties mentioned – a Mr Shelley – was known as an insurrectionary figure. He looked at Duncan Wu’s biography of William Hazlitt as though he was considering conducting a controlled explosion on it. His companion paused at various others of my possessions, for it took two of them to investigate the details of my attendance of an academic convention. Compact discs and hand-written notes were deemed especially suspect, as was a gift I had bought that included a chocolate sauce, while socks passed without close examination.
What was I doing in X? How long had I been doing Z? Could I name a person in the vicinity of P or Q? What was I doing in X and how long had I been at Z again, with varying phrasing to see if my answers would be consistent?
Reports tell us the CIA failed to respond to a tip-off. This was a bizarre lapse in vigilance. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should have been subjected to investigation prior to his setting foot in an airport, so how thoroughly non-suspects are prodded in transit only addresses a small aspect of the problem of international security. Additionally, it will be a victory of sorts for the terrorists if the annoyance of travel to the US kills American tourism. The strategies for approaching terrorism need to be re-thought. The answer is not to be found by rummaging around in my trousers.